Feature article

Dietary fiber update leads to first Nutrition Facts label overhaul in more than 20 years

Food serving sizes and packaging sizes changes
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Features Editor, Packaging World
FDA’s compliance date for the updated Nutrition Facts label is Jan. 1, 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales; Jan. 1, 2021 for smaller manufacturers.

In March, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., announced a multi-year Nutrition Innovation Strategy intended to drive additional actions that the agency can take to reduce preventable death and disease related to poor nutrition. Part of this effort includes taking final steps on the new Nutrition Facts label.

On June 14, Gottlieb issued a statement that included the following details:

"This is our first overhaul of the food label in more than 20 years. It’s aimed at making sure that consumers have access to an updated label that’s based on updated science and provides more information to empower them to choose healthful diets. I also recognize that it’s crucial for the FDA to provide clear expectations so that industry can meet our new labeling requirements and that we provide the greatest flexibility possible, while still maintaining an approach that is grounded in rigorous science.

The agency issued decisions on citizen petitions regarding additional dietary fibers. We also issued a guidance that will allow food manufacturers to count these fibers when calculating the total amount of fiber per serving to declare on the Nutrition Facts label. They can also be counted as fiber on the Supplement Facts label. The eight new fibers are: mixed plant cell wall fibers (a broad category that includes fibers like sugar cane fiber and apple fiber, among many others); arabinoxylan; alginate; inulin and inulin-type fructans; high amylose starch (resistant starch 2); galactooligosaccharide; polydextrose; and resistant maltodextrin/dextrin.”

All of these decisions build off of the FDA’s evidence-based definition of dietary fiber published in 2016, which stated that dietary fiber declared on the updated Nutrition Facts label can include certain naturally occurring fibers that are ‘intrinsic and intact’ in plants as well as seven other added isolated or synthetic fibers that are well recognized by the scientific community for having physiological benefits. Before the FDA established this definition, manufacturers could declare synthetic or isolated fibers as fiber on the label without evidence that these fibers had beneficial physiological effects on the body. Consumers can be assured that non-digestible carbohydrates counted as fiber on the new Nutrition Facts label have health benefits grounded in scientific evidence.

We are taking a flexible approach to dietary fiber, allowing for the possibility of additional fibers to be added to the list of those meeting our dietary fiber definition if the scientific evidence shows they are physiologically beneficial. In addition to other relevant scientific literature, we carefully reviewed submitted petitions requesting that the FDA allow food manufacturers to count other non-digestible carbohydrates as fiber on the Nutrition Facts label. These included sugar cane fiber, apple fiber, and inulin, among others.

The FDA is issuing new guidance today to express our intent to exercise enforcement discretion, permitting manufacturers to count these eight additional fibers in the dietary fiber declaration on the Nutrition Facts label pending completion of the agency’s rulemaking regarding adding additional fibers to the dietary fiber definition in FDA regulations.

Food manufacturers now have additional clarity to help them move forward to update their labels as needed ahead of the compliance date for the updated Nutrition Facts label, which is Jan. 1, 2020 for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and Jan. 1, 2021 for smaller manufacturers. Our goal is to make sure that consumers can trust that the latest, tasty fiber-rich snack food or cereal that comes on the market can offer them some real health benefits.

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